Posted on October 30, 2012 | Back to Literature
REVIEWED: Now We Are Sick: An Anthology of Nasty Verse, Edited by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones
Here be spoilers.
Little Willy with a thirst for gore,
Nailed the baby to the door.
Mother said with humor quaint:
"Now William, don't mark the paint!"
No, that viscous verse isn't included in this anthology of perverse rhyme. Instead, I heard it on the school playground when I was in fifth grade and remember it to this day. That's because my time as an American boy was probably typical of most. That's to say, it was largely characterized by a fascination of the sick, the unusual, the gory and the gross. Aside from the poems and limericks my friends and I regularly recited, there were numerous sick jokes about puking, dismemberment, or eating things that weren't really food — all punctuated with rude bodily noises. I can't say much has changed with adulthood, which is why this poetry compilation, edited by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones, waxed nostalgic for me.
The editors have pulled from diverse and notable names in fantasy, science fiction and horror to create this compilation, including Terry Pratchett (famous for the Disworld novels); the late Robert Bloch (author of Psycho); and screenwriter Stephen Gallagher, whose numerous credits include television shows Dr. Who and Eleventh Hour. Like the fifth grader I once was, and the man I now am, all these authors share a fascination with the grotesque. Some of the poems reminded me of the venerable Edward Gorey, whose fascination with the macabre manifested itself in his bizarre yet charming illustrations and cultural icons like The Addams Family. Now We Are Sick walks the same delicate line between being repulsive without ruining any of the childish fun.
The book's divided into sections based on loose topics, and like most anthologies, it's probably best enjoyed by skimming around rather than being read cover to cover. Naturally, some of the offerings are better than others. Regardless of how you approach it, it's an easy read. The publisher has been careful to note that the book is intended for adults – and indeed some of the topics and language get kind of rough – but I defy you to keep it out of the hands of teens and pre-teens who find this subject matter irresistible.
Aside from the aforementioned quality of some of the poems, the other difficulty (at least for American readers) may be in the book's language. Many of the represented authors are British and make wide use of terms and colloquialisms uncommon to Americans. While a little distracting, don't let this dissuade you. After all, it's nothing a simple Google search can't resolve.
If you hurry, you can still pick up a copy for an enjoyable Halloween read, perfect for recitation around the campfire, or maybe under the blankets with the flashlight?